ANIME & MANGA - Review
11:00 - 2nd April 2016, by NEO Staff

Haikyu!! Season 1 Collection 1

As a young child, Shoyo Hinata happened across a televised high school volleyball game, where he couldn’t help but be inspired, in the way that only a shonen anime protagonist can, by the team’s ace player. ‘The Little Giant’ he was so enthralled by was a legendarily-skilled athlete with a stature as diminutive as Hinata’s own. Now a few years older, wiser, and (a little bit) taller, Hinata is ready to prove himself on the court as part of Karasuno High’s volleyball team – especially if it means getting to avenge a past loss against the so-called ‘King of the Court’, Tobio Kageyama. Unfortunately, his sporting revenge will have to wait, since he and Kageyama are now students at the same high school, and if they want to play volleyball, it’ll have to be as a team, or not at all.

This probably wouldn’t be so difficult if they didn’t also suffer from a major clash of personalities – but as with any anime odd couple, it seems like the mismatched pair actually make a phenomenal team once they put aside their differences. As a setter (that’s the volleyball position, not the breed of dog), Kageyama has never found a player who can match up to his expectations, but Hinata’s blind faith, not to mention his ability to jump like a redheaded rabbit, allow the two to set up some amazing decoys and offensive spikes.

If all this sports jargon is starting to sound a little overwhelming, have no fear, as Haikyu!! doesn’t just throw newcomers in at the deep end. Even if you don’t know which side of a volleyball to toss, you’ll find yourself gradually picking up the rules as the first few episodes unfold, and even without prior knowledge of the sport, the characters’ earnest dedication to the game makes their face-offs against other teams become as exciting and pulse-pounding as even the highest-stakes swordfight might in a different genre.

However, much like most series in the sporting genre, it’s worth noting that Haikyu!! isn’t really about volleyball so much as it is about friendship, camaraderie, and never-say-die attitude – the three staples of shonen anime! And in this case, all of these are present in spades. It’s a real treat to see both the two protagonists grow and develop as characters – Hinata begins to learn some devastating skills on the court, and takes his first step on the road to becoming Karasuno’s very own ace player, and in return, Kageyama learns, in time-honoured fashion, the value of teamwork and having allies at your back.

Speaking of the rest of the team, Haikyu!! doesn’t place all the narrative load on the shoulders of Hinata and Kageyama. The entire Karasuno High squad – affectionately known as The Crows – get their own moments in the spotlight, and it might be hard to choose just one favourite from the gaggle of often over-the-top but ultimately very likeable bunch.

And although there are a lot of touching moments and well-written character arcs, you’re never far from a good old-fashioned bit of slapstick or some other form of silliness in Haikyu!! Comedy-drama is a tough line to walk, but in this case the two augment each other perfectly: the daft humour keeps things from getting too melodramatic, and the well-developed personalities of the characters give their comedic interactions much more depth.

All this story stuff aside, Haikyu!! is also firing on all cylinders in the art department – adapted from the Shonen Jump manga by Haruichi Furudate, the animated version has been brought to life by Production I.G, who are known for such other visually sublime series as Ghost in the Shell and Eden of the East. So while Haikyu!! is in great artistic company, it doesn’t just stand on the shoulders of giants, but rather forges its own artistic path, making each scene as bright and visually engaging as the last. Some manga-adapted series can occasionally end up aping their originators too closely, and fail to make full use of the animated medium. No such issues here though – the characters, as mentioned, all feel full of life, as energetic off the court as they are on it, and the series truly benefits as a result.

Haikyu!! isn’t afraid to play around with its visual style either – for example, sometimes to augment an epic volleyball play, the style shifts into a gorgeous and dynamic ink-and-brush effect, the messy and haphazard brushstrokes stylistically mimicking the motion blur of super-fast movement that is often so difficult to represent through animation.

With such bold artistic choices and great animation fundamentals, it’s hard to believe that it’s only the second major project helmed by the series’ director, Susumu Mitsunaka – but it will definitely be interesting to see what he brings to us in the future.

There are sure to be a lot of contenders for ‘Best Anime of 2016’ over the coming months, but even so early on in the year, it’s clear to see that this will be one of them. Haikyu!! has already inspired a huge fanbase, and it’s easy to see why. Whether you’re a sports fanatic or just someone who likes an engaging story with a lot of heart, a lot of depth, and a lot of people getting hit in the face with volleyballs, then this series should take top billing on your must-watch list.

It’s always a rare occurrence for a series to be released that deserves the title of ‘instant classic’, but there’s no doubt that this simple tale of two teens just trying to win at volleyball is such a series. Funny, frenetic, and full of charm, Haikyu!! is one of the best new shows to grace the genre for years.
SCORE: 5/5
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